Russia in the New World Order: Power and Tolerance in Contemporary International Relations

By Ivanovich, Valerii | Demokratizatsiya, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Russia in the New World Order: Power and Tolerance in Contemporary International Relations


Ivanovich, Valerii, Demokratizatsiya


Valerii Ivanovich Mikhailenko is chairman of the Department of International Relations at Urals State University.

The events of 11 September 2001 made the problem of tolerance in international relations acute. One is reminded of Samuel Huntington's 1990s forecast of civilizational and religious wars. 1 If that apocalyptic scenario is to be avoided, tolerance has to find a place in international behavior.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century the cultivation of tolerance has become gravely important for the continued existence of humanity on earth. The international community and nongovernmental organizations, primarily UNESCO, put integrating a culture of tolerance into international relations on the agenda long ago. Nevertheless, reliance on force, not tolerance, reigns in the international arena.

I have no illusions about changes in the hierarchy of international relations in the foreseeable future. However, to prevent tolerance from being condemned to a marginal position, we must remember that it is one of the primary factors in international relations, one that we hope will gain in influence. In attaching value to tolerance we should recall the words of the Italian intellectual Umberto Eco: "Intellectual duty is to confirm the impossibility of the war. Even if there is no alternative." 2

Here I consider the problem of tolerance in international relations mostly from the point of view of political processes, using classical and postmodernist methodological concepts.

Awful Heritage

Perhaps no other century in the history of humanity has such an awful heritage as the twentieth century. 3 Europe at the turn of the century was the source of humanistic ideas, enlightenment, equality, and belief in the brotherhood of all people. One hundred years ago Russian journals expressed full confidence that the twentieth century would be peaceful. "The development of European civilization industry, science and technology--made war impossible," said Andrey Synayvsky in his book The Soviet Civilization. 4 Yet the twentieth century proved to be tragically different from those forecasts. Europe gave rise to fascist and communist teachings and movements and deliberate use of the most advanced technical tools of mass killing. Gas attacks occurred during the First World War and continued with the use of nuclear weapons during World War II. For practically the entire second half of the century Europe was divided by the iron curtain, and the whole world was in a state of "cold war." And the century culminated in mass "ethnic cleansing" and genocide. And at the beginning of the new millennium, pessimistic forecasts set the tone.

Why do cultures that sanction mass murders, destruction, and humiliation of others exist? Again, Umberto Eco responds: "[j]ust because the set of others is stretched to the limits of the tribe and `barbarians' aren't taken for human beings." 5 That conclusion may be applied equally to groups within and outside of a society. 6

The Post-World War II System

The "Yalta peace"--that is, the political system created by the Great Powers after the defeat of Nazi Germany--ceased to exist when the Soviet empire disintegrated. The dynamic balance that it had created was supported by a well-developed system of restraints and counterbalances between the two superpowers. NATO and the Warsaw Pact were but military tools of the geopolitical interests of the superpowers, not humanistic organization. There was some space at the perimeter of those spheres of influence for other subjects of the Yalta system, in relations of semidependence or neutrality.

More than once the superpowers' policy of mutual restraint led the world to the brink of a global war. In spite of the difference of their ideological approaches, both blocs claimed to have been acting in defense of the principles declared in the charter and resolutions of the United Nations. We can argue about the sincerity of the superpowers in observing the UN's principles, or about their true ambition to manipulate this international organization. …

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